White Women’s Rage: 5 Thoughts on Why Jan Brewer Should Keep Her Fingers to Herself

By Guest Contributor Crunktastic, cross-posted from The Crunk Feminist Collective

What is wrong with this picture?



1.)   He is the President. She is being disrespectful. As hell.  Period. Point Blank. End of Discussion.

2.)   White privilege conditions white people not to see white rage. However, it makes them hyper-aware of Black threat.   Newt Gingrich is white rage personified. And for it, he gets loads of applause.  So is Jan Brewer, but usually we think of white rage in masculine terms. Gender stereotypes condition us not to see white women as being capable of this kind of dangerous emotional output. We reserve our notions of female anger for Black women. Such hidden race-gender logics allow Brewer to assert that she “felt threatened,” even though she was trying to handle the situation “with grace.”

Now look back at the picture: who is threatening whom? Couple white rage with white women’s access to the protections that have been afforded to their gender, and you have something that looks ironically like white female privilege. Yes (yes, yes), the discourse of protection is based upon problematic and sexist stereotypes of white women as dainty and unable to care for themselves, and yes, these stereotypes have caused white women to be oppressed by white men. But remember, gender does not exist in a racial vacuum. It is performed in highly racialized contexts, and history proves that what constitutes oppression for white women in relation to white men, dually constitutes privilege for white women in relation to Black men. (I’m not spoiling for a fight today, so anybody who feels uncomfortable with such assertions should probably go read some Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics and then try again.)

What I know is this: 100 years ago (less than, actually) a Black man even standing that close to a white woman would’ve gotten him lynched.  (Seriously, I just discovered that even accommodationist Booker T. Washington was beaten in New York in 1911 for talking to a white woman.) And I know that if a Black woman had wagged her finger at Bush II or even Bill Clinton, we would have seen her faced down, handcuffed, with Secret Service swarming. When your race and gender grant you opportunities to be treated with dignities that others don’t have or conversely, to heap indignities on those people, that is what we call privilege. Deal with it.

3.)   Unchecked white rage has always been dangerous for Brown and Black folk in America. Jan Brewer’s Arizona is not safe for Brown people and by implication, not safe for Black people (Presidents included). Not only has she terrorized and racially profiled immigrant communities, but she has gutted one of the model Ethnic Studies programs for high school students in this country.  If there were ever a time for Black and Brown solidarity, it is now. And hell, lest we forget, Arizona is not even safe for white women. It is the vitriolic racial climate that Brewer’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies have helped to foment that led to the violence against Gabby Giffords.

(It’s amazing what different stories these two pictures tell.)

4.)   This picture demonstrates something important. The logic of racial supremacy dictates that white people are most comfortable when people of color do the affective labor involved in maintaining white supremacy. (No disrespect to Gabby Giffords: of course, I don’t think this hug shared between colleagues supports white supremacy. But this kind of bodily connection is important for humanizing Black public figures, and it is the logic of that which I’m getting at.)

Historically, it was not enough to be placed in positions of servitude; affecting an attitude of subservience was also critically important.  Failure to be deferential could get you killed, even if you were doing the tasks at hand. The term “uppity Negro” hasn’t always been a slogan to rock proudly on a t-shirt.  Something happens when Black and Brown folks decide that we do not exist in the world to make white people comfortable. And white folks feel it.

This is why a movie like The Help so powerfully resonates with White America, and with countless facets of Black America as well.  The affective labor of white supremacy prefers Black people in certain postures, like for instance dishing out hugs and words of affirmation to  little white girls who will become white women that they, indeed, “is smart, is kind, is important.”

As if the world would ever teach anything different. The effect of such labor is powerful: white America feels more comfortable with the disturbing realities of racism, and Black people can convince ourselves that our humanity, and indeed, our struggle is being acknowledged.  Even her well-deserved Oscar nomination has not convinced Viola Davis of such ridiculousness. (And um, would someone help Charlize Theron get a clue?)

5.)   Finally, I just have to say it: If Jan Brewer and any other bad-ass wants to leave here with the fingers and toes they came here with, I would suggest they keep their hands to themselves. Because frankly, I wish a*&%$# would wag a finger in my face… Kudos to the President for keeping his cool.

 

  • Anonymous

    Why couldn’t the secret service take this lady down, exactly? Why should she be denied right to be handcuffed and have her face scraped like a black person in the same situation?

  • Dicey

    The image you (or someone) created for “The Help” has me ROLLING. I wish I could facebook profile pic that ish. Anyhow, I’m mad I didn’t stumble on your work earlier, it’s super powerful and I wish we could get more of this shit into the mainstream.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L5AETS6ZSDI4D4OM73WOENHCQ4 Dani

    He did that AFTER. I need you to find a recording and watch the entire scene before you jump to conclusions.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L5AETS6ZSDI4D4OM73WOENHCQ4 Dani

    He did that AFTER. I need you to find a recording and watch the entire scene before you jump to conclusions.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/L5AETS6ZSDI4D4OM73WOENHCQ4 Dani

    He did that AFTER. I need you to find a recording and watch the entire scene before you jump to conclusions.

  • Adam

    Great article! Just one comment. Recent scholarship shows that Washington was anything but a collaborationist. He was no less radical than anyone politically active in his time. Just because he lived in the past– with a context different from ours– doesn’t mean he didn’t fiercely resist.

  • Adam

    Great article! Just one comment. Recent scholarship shows that Washington was anything but a collaborationist. He was no less radical than anyone politically active in his time. Just because he lived in the past– with a context different from ours– doesn’t mean he didn’t fiercely resist.

  • Adam

    Great article! Just one comment. Recent scholarship shows that Washington was anything but a collaborationist. He was no less radical than anyone politically active in his time. Just because he lived in the past– with a context different from ours– doesn’t mean he didn’t fiercely resist.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, HE caused this not her entitlement or opportunity to drive up her book sales (which it did).

  • Anonymous

    In other words, HE caused this not her entitlement or opportunity to drive up her book sales (which it did).

  • Anonymous

    In other words, HE caused this not her entitlement or opportunity to drive up her book sales (which it did).

  • Marybeth LaRivee

    “Seriously, can white women and feminists stop derailing discussions about their own racism, classism, or even generic blunders by calling it all anti-feminist or misogynistic?” 
     Nope.  There’s a need to pull this “you hurt my feelings” crap even when interacting with other white women of roughly the same class.  But I think this tendency has noticeably worsened in recent years,  possibly as a result of a growing societal tendency to assume that public space is one’s living room and one has the right to do whatever one wants in it, and damn anyone who mentions that you just bumped into them.  

  • http://twitter.com/toropuku kia ahatia

    I definitely agree about white women’s privilege, they don’t like it when you point it out!  However I’m a woc and I would throw my shoe at Obama and Bush. I don’t know what this white woman is angry about but I doubt it has anything to do with Obama deporting more poc than any other president, or bombing children in Pakistan, or funding death squads to kill Black people in Indonesia, or lynch mobs in Libya, or Africom etc..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

    Please don’t throw ableist language into the discussion.  Racism and other forms of bigotry are not mental illnesses, and saying things like that doesn’t hold people accountable, keeps people from taking mental illness seriously, and adds stigma about folks with MI. 

    • BluTopaz

      Perhaps you don’t know that this has been a valid discussion for a while, and is in no way meant to let bigots off the hook.  It is not “throwing” any type of language into the convo.    

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071634/

      This study has an interesting quote: “To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy.” It also states extreme racist paranoia is a major symptom of other types of mental illness. And again, I am talking about extreme racist behavior. When I look at people like Brewer, the Tea Party rallies, etc i see the same faces from the old lynch mob photos. Some could say racism is generational which is a valid point, but exploring it as a mental disorder has merit also.

      http://www.topix.com/forum/city/utica-ny/T0TQMQQ27UAN50V98

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

        I do know that it’s been a discussion, and I have seen the research, but I would still ask that you not use that language.  I don’t see it as normative, of course.  But a mental illness?  We’ve had that discussion on this site as well, and as a person who is a WOC and lives with MI, it really doesn’t help to have another micro-aggression thrown my way, even if it is friendly fire.

        Not to mention that most MI people are a greater risk to themselves rather than others, so counting extreme racism as a mental illness leads to the perception of MI people as dangerous.  

  • http://twitter.com/Witchsistah Witchsistah

    ” 
    Seriously, can white women and feminists stop derailing discussions about their own racism, classism, or even generic blunders by calling it all anti-feminist or misogynistic? ”

    No.  No, they cannot.

  • Stayfreshiceland

    Again I’m in the minority here but I don’t feel like finger pointing is disrespectful at all. And if she was of the state of mind to point, let me just say that she probably wasn’t in a frame of mind to think in terms of how she could better express that. Let her expression stand, I say, who are we to nitpick her for pointing. If she struck the man, I’d see a problem, but pointing at a guy? I mean give me a break. 

    • Keith

      I sugeest you get a better look, their is finger pointing and then there’s putting your finger in someone’s face. I wouldn’t tolerate that shit from anyone.

    • http://twitter.com/HowlingBusou Howling

      It’s a matter of respect. For his entire term, Obama has had to put up with some ridiculous levels of demeaning behavior. Even at the height of anti-Bush feelings, you saw none of this type of behavior from those in office that disagreed with him. Why? Because there’s a level of common decency and respect afforded to the position of President.  But now that the Scary Black Man got the job, all rules of etiquette fly right out the window.

  • Plop

    I’m european and whenever i see Obama, like  in the first picture, the only thing that pops to my mind is “He is so classy !”. Seriously, each time i see your president next to some white european leader, the white looks nervous and unconfortable and Obama just stands out on himself. 

    The white senator just look out of control here… 

  • Elli

    Just to be clear I understand why people respect Obama but do not understand respecting an abstract president. She shoudn’t have done it because it isn’t polite, not because the position itself turn a person into saint.

  • Elli

    One thing – Why should I respect a persident – I do get  “respect a person”, but the idea I should respect a person  just because he works in the  WH, is a little bit strange to me. Obama,unlike many of the  States  former persidents  at least seem like he is sane ( can you be a sane person and  a politician at the same time – I am still not sure about it) , that is a big plus.  Giving hugs and kisses to the office itself is a little bit strange to me.  Is it American thing ?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MQEC5FUPX6GT5FFCFG3RK3LUOI Rebecca

    This is why I like Obama. He is too calm and even when people around him are acting crazy and rude, he remains dignity and grace.  Now, Brewer should be ashamed. Really. There is nothing more to say.

    • Anonymous

      He HAS to stay calm. Look how he was pilloried when he stated the officer who arrested Henry Louis Gates was acting stupidly. He was practically labeled an Angry Black Man. I don’t like the rhetoric that the only way to handle disrespect or oppression is by being “calm” and acting with “dignity and grace”. Sometimes it is necessary to get angry. Unfortunately, as both a black man and the President he has to constantly walk on egg shells and provide a sanitized front.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MQEC5FUPX6GT5FFCFG3RK3LUOI Rebecca

        Of course. Look at The First Lady, she showed an emotion that wasn’t passive and she got labeled in a heart beat. There is no respect and no one see it or cares to do a thing about it.

  • Anonymous

    Does Jan Brewer know that the Obama administration has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants?  What is she angry about?  Oh yeah…………….. 

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Great article, but what made me LOL was the way Obama seems to be subtly flipping the bird in that bottom photo.

  • http://twitter.com/gr8nessnme Reese

    I still think Brewer should apologize for her charade, but she probably won’t because what she did was perfectly fine. As much as some people hated Bush nobody ever disrespected him as much as they have our President today. I understand President Obama is a very warm people-oriented person, but that does not call for him to be walked over. I’m still upset about that year Boehner hollered out during the State of the Union Address, while the President was talking! I have never ever heard anyone scream out while the President is up talking. I don’t think he apologized either. He has no respect for President Obama, period and I don’t like him.

  • Sanoe

    I don’t agree that we need to respect the office of the presidency. I do agree that an elected public official needs to respect the head of our government. I’d compare it to flag burning; appropriate when done by private citizens but inappropriate if done by a government official.

     That out of the way, she crossed a line. Her claim that she felt threatened is ridiculous, and I consider it both racist and sexist as it promulgates the idea that black men are always dangerous and white women are always victims.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s more like she should respect the office of the president and that style of finger pointing is not respectful at all. My first reaction to that photo was  thinking that she’d never do that to a white president. Would not happen. If she wouldn’t do it to a white president, she shouldn’t be doing it to a black president. Not that one would expect anything else from this particular person, given her record of horrifically racist legislation.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s more like she should respect the office of the president and that style of finger pointing is not respectful at all. My first reaction to that photo was  thinking that she’d never do that to a white president. Would not happen. If she wouldn’t do it to a white president, she shouldn’t be doing it to a black president. Not that one would expect anything else from this particular person, given her record of horrifically racist legislation.

  • newguest

    “Women should be quiet and act properly and polite. Which, in a way, strikes me as very paternalistic and anti-feminist.”
    …  How about  a white woman is afforded the luxury to demean the president and get away with it because society was designed to protect her.  Pointing your finger in someone’s face is flat out aggression and disrespect and I wouldn’t accept that from anyone: women included.

  • k.eli

    I think you misunderstood the point. The author wasn’t advocating for the silencing of women. They were pointing out that ever since Obama came into power, respect for the office of the President on the right has virtually disintegrated. Even if you don’t agree with his politics, it’s still incredibly rude to treat him in such a manner. Hell, I wouldn’t even treat my professors in that manner and they don’t have Secret Service detail. But the reason why Brewer felt she could act in such a manner is because of the privilege afforded to her by both her race and gender. So she can stick a finger in his face and berate him like a child yet she will still be portrayed as someone sticking up for herself. But as the author of the post so poignantly stated, if a black woman did the same thing to George Bush, she would quickly be detained and portrayed as another irrational Angry Black Woman in the media.

  • Tillybummie

    In all of what was said above, that is what really you CHOSE to take away?  I want to know how exactly does the notion of keeping one’s friggin’ fingers out of people’s faces and the problem of talking to the President of the US like he’s being a naughty puppy translate into a notion of women being told to be quiet.  You can’t actually believe that there’s no other way for someone like Jan Brewer, or any other  woman, to speak their minds except to be so blatantly disrespectful.   Feminists who aren’t interested in being
    quiet, proper and polite, figure out how and which ones to cross, and what to
    expect in response.  She’ll get kudos from those who think that he’s just another black man, but that doesn’t mean she made some major interventions on behalf of women.  Far from it.  And frankly, I’m not going to defend someone who spends so much time figuring out how to persecute people (which includes women!) of color.  She needs to keep her hands to herself, period.  They teach that in school in Arizona, don’t they?

    What strikes me as interesting is that if a man got into his face like
    that, he would be accused of assaulting or threatening bodily harm. But
    because she’s a woman, she’s allowed to get away with it, and then to
    heap insult upon injury by claiming she “felt threatened” = I’m sure she
    did – by the fact that he has more power than she does and that he’s
    not her lap dog.
     
    I’m presuming we’re all adults here, so we’ve been around long enough to know that when you step to someone like that, it’s almost certain that an argument and even a physical fight is going to ensure.  Why? That posture hostile and aggressive body language and intended to provoke.  Thankfully, BO can handle himself.  But there are a lot of people who would have to demonstrate amazing self-control not to push her away.   But that would probably be labeled sexist and misogynist etc.  And to tell her to calm the fuck down and back off? That’d be “paternalistic.”  But that’s exactly what I’d tell her.
     

  • Mickey

    This was recently discussed on “Real Time with Bill Maher”. One of the guest panelists, Martin Bashir, said that her actions were a personification of what many anti-Obama people feel. It just confirmed what is going on in Whatthefucksville, USA.

  • Inihure

    SarInLa, you completely missed the point. Either that or you’re only reading what you want to believe.

  • Lena

    Actually when I saw this picture I thought she might be joking with him about something.

    • ThatDeborahGirl

      Really? Spoken like a woman who’s never had a white woman put a finger in her face.

      • Lena

        Really.  I didn’t recognize her as Jan Brewer, for one.  How much does that information change the interpretation?  At first glance, I thought they were both smiling.

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